Posts Tagged ‘Supreme Court’

Shedding Some Light on Blackouts

Thursday, October 4th, 2018

Addiction and Recovery

Note: In light of the recent testimony and controversy over the youthful drinking and behavior of Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, I thought I would post my most recent Addiction and Recovery column on alcohol-induced blackouts on this blog.  I hope it answers some questions.

By Bob Gaydos

 AA8D800B-40C4-49FD-9FA2-33C3E62B429EThere are two enduring views about alcohol-induced blackouts:

  1. They don’t exist. They’re just an excuse for inappropriate behavior.
  2. They exist, but they’re just a harmless, often humorous, occasional price to pay for a night of fun.

Both views are wrong — dangerously so — for the same reason: Denying the existence of blackouts or minimizing their significance could lead to serious consequences (health, legal, personal, professional) for the persons experiencing them and others. If you’ve experienced blackouts or know someone who has and are not concerned about them, you should be.

To start with, blackouts are not the same as passing out. That’s a common misconception. People who drink too much and pass out stay put. They wake up in the same place they passed out and remember, maybe with a hangover, how they got there. People in blackouts can wind up in different states, strange beds, wrong apartments or behind bars when they come to and not know how they got there. “How did I get home last night?” is a common question for blackout veterans. “Where’d I leave my car?” is another.

Many recovering alcoholics who recall their drinking history in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings point to blackouts as one of the “healthy fears’’ that help them stay sober. After all, it can be frightening to find out about some reckless behavior that happened apparently in a blackout and to wonder what else may have happened without your being aware of it.

Some local examples:

— Jordan, a 50ish man from Orange County, who has been sober more than five years, says he once spent a four-day business trip in Texas in a blackout. Airport-to-airport. He did come out of it briefly, he says, to call his boss on Day 2 to tell him he wasn’t feeling well.

— Whitey (all names used are fictitious), who drives for a living, says he regularly drove between New York and Virginia in blackouts.

— John, retired in Sullivan County and sober more than two decades, says he’s positive he was fired from an excellent job because of remarks he made to his boss’s wife while in a blackout.

— Marie, a chef sober less than a year, says she has no recollection of a phone call in which she was extremely rude and insulting to her husband’s sister, other than what her husband and sister-in-law told her. She’s embarrassed by the incident.

— Sunshine, a nurse sober half her life, recalls with a mix of horror and shame coming out of a blackout “as a guy was trying to have sex with me.” She says she fought him off. But she didn’t immediately stop drinking.

That’s often the case — not stopping drinking despite risky or embarrassing consequences. As an isolated incident, a blackout may not signify anything except drinking too much, too fast. Something you might want to avoid because of potential embarrassment or worse. As a pattern, it could be a sign of a more serious problem.

While it’s not just alcoholics who experience blackouts, the connection between blackouts and alcoholism or alcoholic use disorder is real and knowing some facts about the symptom could help dispel some of the myths and avoid more serious problems.

For a long time — most likely from whenever humans first discovered the mood-altering effects of wine until modern science started doing research on the brain and behavior — blackouts were regarded as just one of the possible side effects of drinking alcohol. A little fuzzy memory. No big deal. Just drink less.

When researchers began studying blackouts, however, they soon discovered that persons experiencing them didn’t have just a little amnesia. Rather, they had no recollection of certain events and, try as they might, even when told the details many times over, they had no memory of them. Their subjects didn’t forget, researchers concluded; they never formed a memory in the first place.

The prevailing accepted science, as cited by the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse and other similar agencies, is that persons experiencing a blackout can function and appear to be “normal” to others because their brain is operating on stored, long-term, procedural memory, but the short-term memory of what they are experiencing never gets to the hippocampus, the part of the brain that processes long-term memory. Alcohol — especially a lot of it in a short period of time — short-circuits the process.

According to the NIAAA, “As the amount of alcohol consumed increases, so does the magnitude of the memory impairments. Large amounts of alcohol, particularly if consumed rapidly, can produce partial or complete blackouts.”

More about blackouts:

— It’s not what you drink, it’s how much alcohol gets into your bloodstream and how fast it gets there. This means it’s possible for anyone to black out if he or she drinks enough alcohol quickly enough.

— People who have a low tolerance for alcohol are not necessarily more likely to black out. On the other hand, those with a high tolerance for alcohol are often able to drink heavily and carry on conversations, drive, etc. while in blackouts.

— Women may be more susceptible since they tend to be smaller than men, meaning each drink has a greater effect on the body’s blood alcohol content.

— Drinking on an empty stomach can make blackouts more likely, again because of a more acute impact on the blood alcohol concentration.

— People sometimes have glimpses of memory of an event, but not total recall. These partial lapses are called “brownouts.”

— Blackouts are the product of consumption of an amount of alcohol that affects motor coordination, balance, impulse control and decision-making. This is bad enough when someone is not in a blackout, never mind being unable to recall any risky, self-sabotaging behavior that may have caused serious harm to others.

— Some researchers suggest that people in blackouts, operating on procedural memory and little more, have little impulse control and are more likely to do things they would not otherwise. (See examples above.) This presents embarrassing, sometimes dangerous situations for the person in a blackout, family, friends and even strangers.

— Blackouts are often the unrecognized explanation for someone’s uncharacteristic actions. “Why did you (say/do) that last night?”

— Because of a shortage of evidence-based science on the subject, there is considerable difference of opinion on the use of blackouts as a defense in criminal trials.

So, what to do if you have blackouts? Take them seriously. Maybe talk to a professional health provider who knows about them. While blackouts are not solely the result of years of heavy, alcoholic drinking, they can be a sign of an existing or potential alcohol problem. Even one or two — perhaps the product of binge drinking in college — should be enough to cause concern since not being aware of what one has done is not considered acceptable to most people.

Being the unaware “life of the party” may be tolerable as a one-time experience, but repeated bizarre behavior of which you have no memory is nothing to laugh at.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

And So it Went: ‘2nd Amendment people’, ‘ISIS’ … more Trump ‘do-overs’

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

By Bob Gaydos

Donald Trump ... shooting off his mouth again

Donald Trump
… shooting off his mouth again

It was The Week of the Do-Overs: Actually, for Donald Trump and Republicans, it has been nothing but one do-over after another as the disintegration of their party continues in the guise of a presidential campaign.

Most recently, the man “who tells it like it is” and “says what he means” has been going around saying that President Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton were the founders of ISIS. That is so absurd on the face of it that only a rabid Trump supporter would believe it. But Trump said it often enough that his spokespersons (the most hapless lot of sycophants in history I have to believe) defended it all over TV. Then Trump did what he always does — a do-over. I didn’t mean it, he said. It was “sarcasm,” he said. His lackies moved on.

Trump also said that if Clinton won the presidency there would be no way to stop her from appointing Supreme Court judges who would not be amenable to conservative points of view. Then he added that maybe the “Second Amendment people” might be able to do something about it. When even Republicans said this was a possibly treasonous call for assassination of his opponent, Trump eventually said, well, he meant that politically they might do it. A do-over.

But there are no do-overs when you suggest that killing your opponent would be an acceptable political act. Not in this country where innocent people are murdered for no reason by deranged men with guns every day and the NRA buys congressional support to defeat any reasonable efforts at gun control. Not when all it takes is for one of those unstable Trump followers to get a gun and follow his leader’s suggestion. Some of them don’t even know what sarcasm is.

Trump is a threat, an insult, a slur, a lie, a boast, an absurdity waiting to happen anytime he speaks. Life to him is one, big do-over. He doesn’t tell it like it is; most of the time he doesn’t know what it’s like. He makes it up. Then, because he’s Trump, he expects to be able to say, “That’s not what I meant” or “the media misinterpreted it” and have everything be OK. He never even suggests an apology for any possible harm his words might cause.

For example, he recently said he “always wanted to get a Purple Heart,” one of the dumbest statements I have ever heard. Trump said it in the midst of insulting a father whose son earned the medal in losing his life in combat saving many of his fellow soldiers in Iraq. Because the man is a Muslim and used the platform of the Democratic Convention to attack Trump’s targeting of Muslims, Trump belittled the man by suggesting he was possibly an ISIS agent. Then, Trump showed how small he is himself (not just his hands) by saying he “always wanted” a Purple Heart and being given one by a veteran was “easier.” Ha ha. Joke.

Thousands of men and women who earned Purple Hearts by being wounded in combat were not amused. They would take no do-overs on this slur. If Trump wants to learn more about these wounded veterans, he can visit the Purple Heart Museum in New WIndsor, N.Y.. It’s not far from where he did his only “military duty” at the New York Military Academy.

But really, this is all the same, week after week. He knows Putin; he doesn’t know Putin. He’s not so sure about supporting NATO allies. What’s a Crimea? What’s the big deal about using nukes? Trump doesn’t tell it like it is. Rather, to use the overworn phrase, he is what he is. A phony, in so far over his head that he is trying desperately to find a way out. The debates are supposedly rigged, he says, so maybe he won’t take on Clinton. The elections are also rigged, he says, so he can’t possibly win.

The ones who really want a do-over are Republican “leaders” who allowed this racist bully to claim their prized possession — candidate for president of the United States. A man with no morals, no compassion, no intellect, no regard for anyone but himself. A man who mocks people with disabilities. A man who says he wanted to punch all those Democrats saying nasty things about him. This, to him, is reasonable discourse for someone wanting to be president of the United States. For shame.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus is supposedly OK with Trump avoiding the debates and is his chief apologist. Well, Priebus, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan can go on denouncing Trump’s statements and supporting his candidacy at the same time, but it only makes them look like spineless fools. The know-nothings to whom Trump appeals will stick with them. That’s not enough to save the party of Lincoln. Their day of reckoning is looming.

It seems to me that any Republican with a shred of decency and self-respect, not to mention common sense, should have abandoned Trump and the GOP apologists by now. Any Republican male with a wife or daughters, or both, should have written him off months ago for his comments about women. Any veteran, any Hispanic, any Muslim, any black, any gay, any parent, any woman, any man who respects this country and has hopes for its future needs to look in the mirror and ask, “How can I live with myself if I vote for Donald Trump?”

Evangelicals will have to reckon with their maker.

Some mistakes have no do-overs.

rjgaydos@gmail.com   

Oops, There Goes the First Amendment

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

By Jeffrey Page

U.S. Supreme Court Building

U.S. Supreme Court Building

I’m not a constitutional lawyer. I’m just an American watching the U.S. Supreme Court change my country in ways that once would have been unimaginable.

For example, in Citizens United, the court decreed that corporations have the same rights as human beings. And now, the court holds that it’s essentially permissible for government to endorse one religion over another and put an end to the concept of religious neutrality.

Once, we were a nation of reason, a sanctuary for the tempest-tossed, a place where immigrants, no matter their faith, seeking peace and maybe even a little understanding, could go to get away from the mob. 

Once, we took the opening clause of the Bill of Rights seriously: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” We didn’t know of any other countries that offered such extraordinary protections to minorities and nonbelievers. The United States was really special.

Sometimes, the great American experiment didn’t work, but such failure was usually corrected fairly quickly. In any case, at least the guarantee of religious freedom was written down and signed; at least we knew how things were supposed to be.

Oh, America! Where else was religious freedom so clearly stated?

This has been a country where the official rule is that a Jew can be a Jew, a Sikh can be a Sikh. And if anyone made being a Jew or a Sikh in America a problem, there was the Supreme Court – with no agenda of its own – to set matters straight. We believed that certain truths were self-evident. You want to pray? Go ahead and pray. Just don’t force it on everyone else.

But now the Supreme Court has decided – in yet another 5-4 decision – that a prayer at the opening of town board meetings in Greece, N.Y. is no violation of the First Amendment because atheists and ministers of all faiths are welcome to register on the board’s “chaplain of the month” roster. The “chaplain of the month” gets to recite the invocation at town board meetings in Greece.

The New York Times has reported that the “chaplain of the month” in Greece was almost always a Christian, that two-thirds of the “chaplains of the month” made reference to “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” “your son,” or “the holy spirit,” and that one prayer ended: “We acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.”

That sure sounds like the establishment of a religion, a point the Greece Town Board naturally denies.

If the town board is serious about representing all its constituents and if it had noticed – how could it not? – that almost all prayers were Christian in nature, it would have made a stronger effort towards inclusivity.

All the board had to do was to get out into the neighborhoods of Greece and proactively invite Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist, Shintoist, and clergy or laity of other faiths to sign up on the “chaplain of the month” list. And since God is everywhere, board members could even have ventured into neighboring towns if, for example, there was no Buddhist temple in Greece but one in the next town over. Incidentally, Rochester, a city of about 211,000 people, is just eight miles east of Greece and is home to 12 synagogues, a Sikh temple, five mosques, and a Baha’i community among other places of worship.

Just hours after the Supreme Court ruling, the Greece Town Board opened its meeting with a prayer by the Rev. Peter Enyan-Boadu, who, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported, “asked God to guide the board’s hearts and minds in the spirit of fairness.” He also called on God to bless the minds of the members of the town board, and finished with: “Thank you Lord, for being our source of guidance today.”

The Rev. Enyan-Boadu was from St. John the Evangelist Church.

Profiles in Cowardice

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

By Jeffrey Page

The Supreme Court, in its questioning during the challenge to California’s anti-gay marriage measure, hinted that now’s not the time. Not the time for equality? What are decent people, on the right and left, supposed to make of this?

It’s like telling a man in the emergency room that now’s not the time to work on what appears to be a heart attack. It’s like telling a woman with a hungry baby that now’s not the time to offer a bottle of formula.

And of course then comes that bothersome question – if not now, when?

Question 1: How often will America tolerate gutless politicians and judges who offer the old do-nothing response of “The time is not right,” or “Wait a while longer,” or “Put your feeble interpretation of ‘equal rights’ on hold?”

Question 2: Precisely how long are people supposed to wait for the rights and privileges afforded to everyone else?

Progress often is difficult, but because it is necessary to a free society, it must be pursued with courage and vigor. It can’t be placed on a back burner, and the people who seek such progress can’t be shunted aside as mere inconveniences.

Which is not to say that crusades are easily won, because generally speaking, the Americans most in need of change have not been straight white men – the class that runs things. They generally do not need redress on such matters as equal rights, and as a result often block the progress sought by others.

The time may be wrong for gay marriage?

When it comes to recognizing that all people must have identical rights or else the great experiment fails, America seems to move at molasses speed. For example, it took 131 years since the founding for our politicians to get around to an understanding that women are citizens, too, and therefore must be allowed to vote.

It took 176 years until we could pass a Voting Rights Act (and some people are trying now to un-do it), 76 years to outlaw slavery, 79 years to grant citizenship to all who were born here or naturalized here, 81 years to allow all citizens (but not women; their right would come 50 years later) to vote.

Clearly, what progress needs is some valorous people to stand up to the forces of darkness, valor such as displayed by one of my favorite heroes, Joseph Welch, a little known Boston attorney. In 1954, Welch looked Joe McCarthy in the eye and said, in a different context, “Senator, you’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

And that was the beginning of the end of the McCarthy reign of terror. I believe Joseph Welch had more courage than the 531 members of Congress in total.

To end the sanctioned bigotry against gay people who insist on having the same rights as the rest of the population, it will take more judges and more politicians who refuse to duck out of a showdown with evil with the excuse “now’s not the time.”

In fact, to grant to all Americans the rights that most now enjoy, there has never been a better time than right now.

 

Doing ’40 to Life’ After Roe v. Wade

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013
“The clawlike appendages that kept the Dalkon Shield in place made removal painful and could perforate the uterus” — Wired Magazine.com. Photo by Jamie Chung; IUD Courtesy of Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum/Case Western Reserve University

 

The landmark Supreme Court decision of Roe v. Wade, which made most abortions safe and legal, was handed down 40 years ago this week. That  same month, I discovered I had gotten pregnant while implanted with the most toxic and dangerous contraceptive device ever put on the market. The Dalkon Shield, in its whirlwind tour of death and destruction, led me to share this fateful anniversary in a way I can never forget.

 

By Emily Theroux

Last month, I read an unnerving article on RH Reality, a website that champions reproductive health and rights. A young law student who lived with her boyfriend and conscientiously practiced contraception had become pregnant two years after implantation with an intrauterine device. “As effective as tying your tubes,” NW had been assured by the gynecologist who inserted it.

Just as I did at her age, NW took every precaution possible to prevent an unplanned pregnancy while avoiding the risk of blood clots, strokes, cardiovascular disease, and other potential side effects of the birth-control pills she had relied on previously.

(I had also begun taking the pill when I was a virginal 18, riding a Greyhound bus to Planned Parenthood in Rochester from Brockport, the Erie Canal town where I went to college. Once there, I lied about my marital status, after a friend advised me that the clinic only prescribed the pill to married women. I was serious about my education and had no intention of getting “knocked up” during freshman year, at the heady but terrifying dawn of the sexual revolution — when, as vulgar as it sounds in plain English, there were times when you couldn’t be absolutely certain who the father was.)

After an urgent-care clinic confirmed the results of NW’s home pregnancy test, she and her boyfriend, who definitely weren’t ready for marriage, much less an infant, agonized over scheduling an abortion at Planned Parenthood. About her failed ParaGard IUD, NW said:

“It still isn’t clear what I should do about the tiny piece of metal inside me. It seems dangerous now. For so long it was a faithful friend, but now it’s a foreign object lodged next to embryonic cells inside of me — I can’t believe that’s good for anyone. But the urgent care doctor just says call my doctor and take some prenatal vitamins. … My IUD is still there, and I’m pregnant.”

In NW’s case, an OB-GYN removed her IUD a week before the abortion. But back in December 1972, when I  unwittingly became pregnant while supposedly “protected” by a similar device — the horrific Dalkon Shield — the doctors told me they left that accursed thing in place throughout a woman’s pregnancy, for fear of miscarriage, which too often resulted anyway.

 

A Pandora’s box of sepsis, infertility, miscarriage, and death

The Dalkon Shield, an early intrauterine device, would never have been sold if medical devices had been vetted by the FDA at the time. Its fatal design flaws killed at least 18 women between 1971 (when it was introduced by the A.H. Robins Co. and aggressively and fraudulently marketed, despite its manufacturer’s full awareness of serious safety issues) and 1974, when it was finally taken off the market after Robins was swamped by consumer complaints.

Many of the Shield’s 200,000 victims experienced severe pain and bleeding, or suffered perforations in the uterine wall that allowed the device to “migrate” into the abdominal cavity. Others contracted deadly streptococcal infections from its multifilament tailstring, which had a known propensity for “wicking” any pathogenic bacteria that might appear in the vaginal flora into the uterus, which is normally a sterile chamber.

Numerous victims developed pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) after the sepsis spread to their fallopian tubes and ovaries. Most recovered after taking antibiotics, but in rare cases, the infection was so severe that hysterectomy was the only solution. In addition, scar tissue and adhesions left behind by the ravages of PID caused infertility in many Dalkon Shield wearers (and even led to occlusion of the fallopian tubes, which sometimes resulted in life-threatening ectopic pregnancies).

My sweet college friend Alfia contracted a raging infection from the string of her IUD and nearly died during a harrowing two-week hospitalization. Alfie, who grew up in a large Greek/Italian family, was devastated by the prospect that she might never bear a single child. Years later, by some miracle, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl, now a young woman herself.

“The greatest danger came when a Dalkon Shield wearer became pregnant,” wrote Russell Mokhiber in 1987. Pregnancy could lead to severe infections, miscarriages, stillbirths, and death.” Some pregnant women suffered spontaneous septic abortions when the device was pulled upward as their wombs expanded. The bacteria attacked the placenta, ending in the death of the fetus and, in some cases, the mother.

Despite the continuing horror, Robins waited until 1980  to recommend that doctors remove the Shield from the wombs of unafflicted women who were still wearing it. The company (which also manufactured popular brands like ChapStick and Robitussin) was nailed with more than 400,000 lawsuits after covering up what had mushroomed into a global women’s health crisis. Robins declared bankruptcy in 1985, and a trust for the victims later paid out almost $3 billion.

 

The month Roe made abortion legal, I learned I was pregnant

I didn’t find out I was “with child” until January 1973, the same month the Supreme Court decided, in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, that most laws against abortion violated a constitutional right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment.

I was 22 and had married way too young. I had also experimented with LSD and other drugs considered “recreational” as well as enlightening in our countercultural campus milieu. I became panicky over the prospect of chromosomal abnormalities that might result from our generation’s willful ingestion of hallucinogens, and tormented by guilt over the amoral predilections of our time. What if we had doomed our own progeny by taking psychedelics?

My first husband and I had been married just two years. None of our friends believed in matrimony then; “shacking up” or living communally were the custom. Surrounded as we were by practitioners of free love, our relationship had become shaky and vulnerable. We had talked about eventually having a baby, but I wasn’t yet convinced it was wise to bring a child into a world that had been poised on the brink of nuclear annihilation since before I was born. (It took my husband six more years — aided by my ticking biological clock — to persuade me to gamble on whether our offspring would make it to adulthood. Our only child, Gabriel, who was joyously welcomed to the planet in September 1979, pulled through just fine.)

That first pregnancy, however, had been different. I hadn’t asked for this, and I was furious with fate. As in NW’s case, my doctor had convinced me of the IUD’s effectiveness. Having to make this decision seemed brutally unfair. I didn’t anticipate or plan for this pregnancy as I later did with my son — recording when I ovulated, eating nutritious food, swearing off wine and caffeine, taking iron and calcium and prenatal vitamins, never smoking a joint or a cigarette, refraining from swallowing so much as an aspirin. Furthermore, I had never been careless with my reproductive cycle, and this was not even supposed to be on the horizon yet.

 

This is not a celebration, but a beacon for our common future

Anxious and moody, my system deluged by hormones, I fantasized about keeping what might some day develop into a living, breathing human child, if I simply let it be. Most of the time, I could only bear to imagine the baby as a fragile cluster of cells, straining implausibly towards viability. Soon enough, I would make a conscious choice to extinguish its Qi — in Chinese, its life force — like a tiny, flickering candle.

I was positive by then that this hapless child wouldn’t even make it to term — and it turned out I was right to worry. Women who conceived while the Dalkon Shield was implanted suffered a 60 percent miscarriage rate, according to three books cited on Ask.com; many of the pregnancies that weren’t aborted, either naturally or medically, resulted in premature births and severe birth defects, the authors claimed, and I haven’t yet been able to confirm the accuracy of their statistics, if that’s even possible

In retrospect, it may have been some kind of grace or absolution from someone else’s God — a deity I don’t have faith in and will never understand — that I didn’t “choose life” and go through with the pregnancy.

With great chagrin and trepidation, I took what, for me, eventually became the more difficult path, resolving to have an early-term abortion in February 1973, at eight weeks’ gestation. It’s a decision I scrutinize and thrash out in nightsweats to this day, especially on this sobering anniversary.

Nobody’s dancing or clapping here. Forty years ago, for what I deemed with my best judgment at the age of 22 to be good reason, I underwent one of the first legal abortions, in a large city hospital devoid of protesters. I wouldn’t deny that right to any other woman who believes, in the privacy of her own heart where no one else has license to trespass, that she is doing the right thing for her body, her spirit, her family, her moral compass, and her life.

None of us makes such an agonizing decision lightly. No woman that I’ve ever met is “pro-abortion.”

Our consciences come in various shades of gray; mine may sometimes verge on a starless, sooty black, but I don’t wallow there for long. Life calls me back. I have a son, born radiant, healthy, and intact six years later, and a beautiful, kind daughter-in-law. I have two stepchildren, one of whom I talk to long-distance nearly every day, the other turning 24 today. I have three little grandchildren, all under five years old. The babies that I have need a grandmother’s hugs and singing, poems and laughter.

I have good reason now, at the age of 62, to run out and greet the rest of my life, to embrace it with open arms.

How the GOP Weathered the Fourth

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

Mitt Romney ... blowing in the wind

By Emily Theroux

When it rains on the Republicans’ Fourth of July parade, it’s a monsoon!

I doubt seriously that the stars will ever again align against the GOP in the precise configuration they’ve achieved since the Supreme Court ruled that the individual health care mandate in the Affordable Care Act is constitutional. The deluge of dashed hopes, mixed messages, and wrong turns that has flooded the vast conservative echo chamber has expanded the right wing’s Independence Day celebration into a “terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week,” to borrow a phrase from author Judith Viorst (and a meme from the Internet).

Never mind that “the mandate” was an idea that Republicans originally proposed but which they detest now against all reason and with vehement intensity. (President Obama is equally intent on furthering his inevitable goal of “bipartisan compromise,” which never gets him anywhere with these people.) Once Obama looks favorably upon such brainstorms of the right-wing think tanks and thereby gives them cooties, conservatives metamorphose into their own doctrines’ most fervent critics.

How many things went wrong for the Republicans in the short span of a week? I counted a dirty dozen:

1. The Supremes ruled against them, and “heads exploded,” as Dick Cheney once said, all over Washington.

2. Fox and CNN (trying to outfox Fox) both got the story horribly wrong at first, because whoever skimmed that ruling was either in too big a hurry for a scoop to read past the first paragraph or too “simple” to fathom what the ruling meant. They saw “individual mandate unconstitutional” and ran with it. (Even worse, Obama was tuned in to both channels and, at first, believed what he was hearing!)

3. The entire wingnut populace spent days massively freaking out, denouncing the treachery of Chief Justice John Roberts (who is supposed to be “an impartial guardian of the law,” not a right-wing tool), and proclaiming that “Obamacare” included “the biggest tax increase in the history of the world.” Roberts’ new critics invaded his Wikipedia biography and symbolically “repealed” him by “replacing” the title “Chief Justice” with “Chief Traitor.”

Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Michael Savage all tried to outdo each other’s bombast. “Our freedom of choice just met its death panel,” Limbaugh raged about SCOTUS. Beck hawked T-shirts depicting Roberts as a coward. Savage suggested that Roberts’ epilepsy meds had caused “cognitive disassociation (sic)” that affected his judgment. And Troy Newman of the militant anti-abortion group Operation Rescue compared the day the decision was announced to 9/11 and, appallingly, referenced Nazi Germany as well, warning that “we are all moving down the road toward complete annihilation.”

4. Some nut-job even proposed one of Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle’s “Second Amendment remedies.” In Michigan, former state GOP spokesman Matt Davis asked in a mass email whether “armed rebellion” might now be justified. An anonymous commenter responded to an online article about it: “I will not submit I will not buy something I don’t want I will not pay the fine (sic). And I will not be arrested peacefully. Your move Feds (double sic: punctuation needed desperately).”

5. Mitch McConnell appeared on “Fox News Sunday,” expecting his usual softball interview. Chris Wallace, however, grilled him relentlessly about the Republicans’ plan to “replace” Obamacare once they’ve repealed it. After Wallace asked him three times how the GOP planned to cover some 30 million uninsured Americans, McConnell finally blurted out in exasperation, “That’s not the issue!” Then, realizing what he was admitting, he clarified that the Republicans didn’t have a replacement plan for Obamacare’s most important provision.

6. After Republicans were proven wrong on how big the tax increase would be (the Great God Reagan passed a higher one), Romney’s campaign stooge, Eric Fehrnstrom the Etch a Sketch guy, made it clear that Romney didn’t consider the fine that “free riders” would have to pay for ignoring the mandate a “tax” but rather an “unconstitutional penalty.” If Romney were to call it a tax, it would mean that he had also “raised taxes” when Massachusetts passed Romneycare. Much wingnuttery ensued, including a snide tweet from Rupert Murdoch saying Mitt should “hire some real pros” for his campaign team.

On the “penalty” side of the debate were conservative think-tank analysts, The Wall Street Journal editorial board, and the four dissenting justices – all of whom warned that accepting as a tax what was written into law as a penalty would give big-government advocates “unlimited power to impose new purchase mandates.” The government could “legally tax our every breath,” Sen. Rand Paul warned.

7. Individual GOP lawmakers have a personal stake in one facet of the law they so fervently want to repeal: the provision that allows their own adult children to remain on their health insurance policies. Tea Party blowhard Joe Walsh (who also recently tried to “swiftboat” his Democratic opponent, a former Black Hawk pilot and double amputee, for “politicizing” her military service) explained that, while his 24-year-old son is covered by his mother’s plan, the freshman congressman doesn’t really support keeping the provision. “I don’t know where I am on that, and that’s a lousy thing to say,” he observed. “That doesn’t matter to me, though, irregardless (sic) of that.” (It’s “lousy” indeed, given that Walsh’s ex-wife has sued him for more than $100,000 in child support arrears that she claims he owes.)

8. Mother Jones magazine updated a story about Mitt and the Fabulous Bain Boys investing $75 million in Stericycle, a medical waste firm that disposed of aborted fetuses. This time, Mitt couldn’t weasel out of it by claiming he no longer worked there when the Stericycle deal went down. According to writer David Corn, an SEC document revealed that Mitt had held sole “voting and dispositive power” over Bain’s Stericycle shares when the investment was made. One pro-life blogger, along with Dan Primack of CNN Money, challenged Corn’s conclusion. Primack acknowledged that Bain asked Mitt to continue signing Stericycle fund documents after he “left” in February 1999 to salvage the Olympics in Utah. (Mitt had taken an earlier leave in 1994 to run for the Senate.) “Romney said he will stay on as a part-timer with Bain, providing input on investment and key personnel decisions,” The Boston Herald stated at the time. A July 1999 press release said Romney was “currently on a part-time leave of absence” and quoted him speaking for Bain Capital.

9. In a surprise move, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed three voter suppression bills. Needless to say, Republicans weren’t too happy about this unprecedented defection from their nationwide plot to disenfranchise likely Democratic voters.

10. Jonathan Krohn, the erstwhile wunderkind of CPAC’s 2009 conference as a precocious 13-year-old, has now emerged at 17 to denounce conservatism – and his own naivete. Movement bigwigs who once revered him are now calling him vile names and sniffing that they secretly thought all along that he was annoying, condescending, and mindless.

11. On the Fourth, Mittens caved to intense pressure from his puppeteers by revising his views on the “penalty vs. tax” issue yet again, now calling it “a tax” but offering no elaboration. Then a Wall Street Journal op-ed blasted Mitt and his bumbling campaign strategy for “slowly squandering an historic opportunity” by vacillating and obfuscating on issues like health care reform. Flip-Flopper-in-Chief, anyone?

12. And for the grand finale, the right’s wackiest characters genuinely “brought the crazy” during America’s 236th birthday week. El Rushbo dropped another misogynistic bombshell when he replied to a caller opining on the youth vote: “When women got the right to vote is when it all went downhill. Because that’s when votes started being cast with emotion and maternal instinct that government ought to reflect.” (Worry not, dittoheads: Beck’s got his back. The Blaze, Beck’s website, insisted that Rush was merely baiting liberal critics with an old saw written by Ann Coulter – who probably really believes it.) Meanwhile Florida’s favorite Mad Hatter, Rep. Allen “Wild, Wild” West, said at a campaign rally: “I have a great idea. I believe, for personal security, every American should have to go out and buy a Glock 9mm” – an obvious applause line, gun humor for the ideologically challenged. “And if you don’t do it, we’ll tax you,” he added, after his curtain call. (Col. West is not amused by the federal income tax.) “Now I wonder how the liberals will feel about that one.”

I have to hand it to him: That’s one hell of an “individual mandate.” The problem is that it’s about as thoughtless a possible provocation to trigger-happy whack jobs as Dubya jeering, “Bring ’em on!” at the citizens of a nation we had just occupied in a preemptive war. Or Sarah Palin exhorting the Tea Party faithful, “Don’t retreat, RELOAD!” and using a U.S. map festooned with figurative gun sights to target the districts of congressional Democrats who had voted for the Affordable Care Act – like Arizona’s Gabby Giffords, later shot and gravely injured by a deranged gunman who killed six other people during the same attack.

I’m not implying that the shooter had ever seen Palin’s provocative map; we have no way of knowing what set off his crazed shooting spree. But all we need in this polarized country is more wildly irresponsible NRA rhetoric – or everybody and his grandma packing heat.

John Roberts, Unlikely Hero of the Left

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Chief Justice John Roberts

By Bob Gaydos

So, John Roberts, hero of the left wing and savior of Obamacare. Who wuddda thunk it?

Actually, the chief justice’s law school professor, for one. Laurence Tribe, who taught Roberts as well as President Barack Obama at Harvard Law School, opined on Tuesday, two days before the historic Supreme Court ruling was revealed, that he felt Roberts would vote to uphold the law, as much to reinforce the image of the court as an apolitical neutral umpire as to rule on the law’s constitutionality.

In an interview on MSNBC, Tribe said, “I think that the chief justice is likely to be concerned about the place of the court in history and is not likely to want the court to continue to be as deeply and politically divided. Doesn’t mean he will depart from his philosophy. You can be deeply conservative and believe the affordable care act is completely consistent with the United States Constitution.”

Which is pretty much what Roberts did, siding with the four so-called liberal justices to preserve the major legislative victory of Obama‘s presidency. Of course, the airwaves and the blogosphere exploded Thursday as anyone with a law degree and an opinion on the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act and a means of transmitting that opinion to a large audience explained why Roberts did what he did. Or, as many Republican politicians did, to call Roberts a traitor to their cause. Safe to say, many of the latter group aren’t too concerned with the nuances of judicial restraint and co-equal sharing of power among three branches of government.

I don’t have a law degree and I don’t belong to any political party, but, hey, I‘ve got a blog, too. And without pretending to read Roberts’ mind, some things seem obvious in the wake of this ruling:

  • Obama got a huge boost in his re-election campaign, since repealing the health care act as unconstitutional was all Republicans have talked about for months. Case closed. It’s constitutional. Spin it any way you want, the president wins this one.
  • Republicans are now going to have to find an actual plan to replace Obama’s if they want to continue their argument. House Speaker John Boehner seems not to care about that. All he keeps talking about is repealing the act, which the Senate will never do. Plus, with so many provisions in it that Americans like (no refusal for pre-existing conditions, kids on parents‘ plan until age 26), that will not be easy for any Congress.
  • Mitt Romney, who actually has talked about replacing the health care act after he repeals it as president, seems to be stuck with offering up his own plan, which he introduced as governor of Massachusetts. That plan, of course, is what Obama’s plan and an initial conservative plan, was modeled on. So Romney continues to talk in circles of fog and disingenuousness.
  • Roberts obviously possesses a chief justice’s concern for the way his court is viewed. He does not, for example, think justices should be offering strong political views on issues that are not contained in the case on which they are ruling. (Justice Antonin Scalia, who acts as if his life term gives him the right to pontificate and criticize — as he recently did on Obama’s order sparing tens of thousands of young immigrants from deportation — obviously doesn’t get the neutral umpire view.) Roberts both criticized the Obama health plan (an overreaching regulation of commerce by requiring insurance) and ruled on its constitutionality — it’s a legitimate tax, even though Democrats didn’t have the guts to call it that.
  • By stressing that the court’s role is not to judge the law, but to decide if it can be upheld and, if so, to do so, Roberts demonstrated control of his court and reassured some Americans who have had an increasingly dim view of it since Bush v. Gore. It falls to Congress the power to pass laws, he reminds us, whether they seem wise or not. This is a definition of judicial restraint.
  • Spinning the 5-4 ruling as a conservative victory for the future because Congress is warned off trying to expand use of the commerce clause to regulate behavior and Republicans will be energized to actually replace the Obama health plan with one of their own doesn’t come close to the overwhelming victory it gives an incumbent president seeking reelection right now. If I’m a politician, I take that trade anytime.

So, Chief Justice John Roberts, intentionally or not, hero of the left wing.

 bob@zestoforange.com

 

 

 

 

Mitt’s ‘Circus’ Sends in the Clowns

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

By Emily Theroux

Come one, come all to the three-ring circus of Willard “Mitt” Romney’s “This Week in Immigration” road show! Step right up and have the time of your life!

That cornball “Greatest Show on Earth” hype was what came to mind while I listened to the Mittster’s “traveling press secretary,” Rick Gorka, an apparently sentient young man behaving eerily like a trained parrot before an assembled media gaggle. Undaunted by the attempts of reporters to elicit a different response to their repeated questions about Mitt’s immigration agenda, Gorka managed to say absolutely nothing substantive for a full seven minutes. When asked about Mitt’s considered opinion of the recent Supreme Court ruling that rendered Arizona’s notorious “Papers, Please” Act legally impotent, his laconic, gum-chewing flack echoed the Boss Man’s desultory “states’ rights” bibble-babble, as he noted, “over and over and over again.”

Willard “Lizard Boy” Romney has apparently designated the robotic Gorka as his substitute ringmaster. This inspired hire has provided the candidate with a nifty dodge from the media circus converging on “The Magical ‘Mitt-stery’ Tour” of daring escapes from accountability, mind-boggling platitudes, and broken-record ballyhoo that the campaign has devolved into. Why the calliopes and clown brigade every time the campaign stops at a new venue? Because the GOP candidate mulishly refuses to answer a potentially lethal question: What is his policy on immigration reform?

“The governor supports the right of states,” Gorka mechanically replied. “That’s all we’re going to say on this issue.”

That and Mitt’s tedious contention that President Obama has broken his campaign promise to “address” the immigration system within the first year of his presidency and, “therefore,” hasn’t made any attempt to reform it since then. Mitt jumped to the conclusion that the states have some nebulous “Tenth Amendment right” to “craft their own immigration law” when the executive branch “fails” to act. (This view also enabled dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia to “strike down the results of the Civil War,” in the words of a clever headline writer for Alternet.)

We’ve almost arrived at the main attraction: Mitt’s audacious high-wire act in the center ring. But first, send in the clowns! I think I spy Rush “Bubbles” Limbaugh, fortunately still looming in the wings – but I have no doubt he’ll swing by soon, his imposing bulk dangling from the high bar of a very slender trapeze. And mira, amigos – here comes Jan “Rosie Sunshine” Brewer! She’s got her platinum wig all in a wad because she thinks the Supremes don’t like her finger-wagging routine any more. She’s so goofy, she still thinks her side “won” when the ruling came down!

Look over there – is that Michael “Emmett Kelly” Steele, returning for Act II of his hilarious GOP stand-up routine? I barely recognized him without the villainous moustache. What’s that he’s saying – Mitt’s going to lie low for the rest of the summer, then give us some general-election “straight talk” after Labor Day to let us know, finally, what he’s decided to say he thinks about Amercia’s “illegals” quandary? What’s that about David Koch and the Super PAC puppeteers? Very funny, Pennywise!

And there’s Hizzoner, Nino “Bozo” Scalia, riding bareback on Ann Romney’s prized dressage horse. That’s some clown get-up he’s got on there – a judge’s robe! Bozo probably should have been wearing boxing gloves, because he had a big spat with the majority, who didn’t think much of his highly politicized dissenting opinion – or his brainstorm about calling down the Insane Clown Posse on all 12 million of those “alien” interlopers, chasing them back across the border, and then letting Mexico deal with them, even though they didn’t all come from Mexico. (And you’d never know that Nino himself was the son of an immigrant, would you?) Take a bow, Nino/Bozo – or get that fancy horse to do some of those little fluttery ballet steps for you! (That equine must have been pricey. Good thing Mitt could write it off as a “business expense.”)

I realize Mitt’s really teetering up there; at least he’s risk-averse enough to always use a net. (Obama’s the real daredevil, though; no net, no sissy tights, just a big stick to help him keep his balance.) What’s really scary is what Mitt’s up against, straddling “the danged fence” the way he does. If he leans too far to the right, he’s in danger of losing even more of that baffling demographic, Latino voters (which he can’t fathom until he figures out how to tell the “legal” immigrants from the “illegal” ones). And if he swings too far to the left, he’s going to fall off the back of the “Restore Our Future” campaign bus! (Odd concept, by the way – how can you “restore” something that hasn’t happened yet? Sounds like a socialist takeover, if you ask me.)

When the Romney traveling circus comes to town, prepare yourself for the awful truth: This circus is no genuine fun at all, with the exception of a little schadenfreude. (We’re laughing at you, Mitt, not with you.) This Big Top spectacle offers its share of elephants, aerialists, and clowns, and it even has its own traveling pitchman. But it’s so repetitive that it’s guaranteed to “cure insomnia,” as Martin Bashir quipped on his MSNBC show – and it’s no place to go searching for honest solutions to the serious economic dilemma this country has been tricked into by GOP hucksters. The same scam artists who flim-flammed Americans into buying what Dubya’s Great Neocon Illusionist Exposition was selling 12 years ago hope to fool the gullible into believing that Brother Mitt’s Traveling Salvation Show offers a shiny new approach to the one that drove the wagons into the ditch in the first place.

As P.T. Barnum is falsely credited with saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.” If Mitt manages to pull a fast one on the American people and sell them his own bill of goods by talking in circles for the next four months, we’ll only have the folks who aren’t paying attention to blame (like all of those registered Democrats who stayed home in droves during the primary election for a candidate to run against Tea Party freshman Nan Hayward; if you’re reading this, which would surprise me, you know who you are).

I wonder what pearls of wisdom Mitt Romney will have to offer about Scalia’s “miscarriage” of judicial propriety, by the way?

Very likely, nothing new. Move along, folks. The show is over. Nothing to see here.

In circus lingo, a “fireball outfit” is a traveling circus that earns a reputation for swindling patrons. If that’s indeed what’s been going on during this comedy of errors, the voters should demand their money back and ride the bums out of town on a rail when they show up at the next whistle stop with their hands out.

The GOP Campaign, in Black and White

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Why does this man scare so many Republicans? Hint: It may not be his economic policies.

By Bob Gaydos

Stay with me here. I’m going to try to connect the dots between the Supreme Court’s absurd decision on Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission and the on-the-face-of-it foolish view of many poor to middle-class white Americans that the Republican Party represents the best hope for their future and the future of America, which is why they intend to vote for Mitt Romney.

The journey will visit the wild frontier of the birthers, the loony world of Jeremiah Wright, the penthouses of the billionaire super PACS, the righteous kingdom of Rick Santorum, the go-back-where-you-came-from land of Mitt Romney, W’s fantasy factory, the Civil War, Montana, the Occupy Movement and “welfare queens.”

Yes, racism is bound to come up.

Citizens United, of course, is the 5-4 ruling that gave corporations the same rights as individuals in donating to political action committees. They can give as much as they want and the super PACs created by this free-flowing stream of wealth can mount massive media campaigns, not so much to promote their candidate as to steamroller the opponents. This was evident in the street fight that recently passed for a Republican presidential primary. It amounted to dueling super PAC campaigns in various states. Romney won because he had the most money, not because more Republican voters liked him. They still can’t stand him. They just fear Barack Obama more.

Which is Dot Number One. This was made clear when the first thing conservative Republicans in Congress said upon Obama’s election was that they would dedicate the next four years to making sure he served only one term. Instead of, you know, we’ll try to work with him in governing the country so that maybe he’ll understand where we differ, etc.

So we have had a string of “no” votes on anything Obama proposed, public officials (and the ridiculous Donald Trump) questioning whether the president was really born in the United States even after being shown a copy of his birth certificate, innuendo that he was a Muslim (because of his name) and, just recently again, efforts to link him with his freaky former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

The Wright red herring was eliminated, or so we thought, four years ago, but one of those super-rich PACs recently tried to launch a TV campaign making the false link again. This time the behind-the-scenes directors were going to hire a well-spoken conservative black conservative to attack Obama, a well-spoken black non-conservative. You know, to prove that it was not a racially motivated effort. Romney got shamed into sort of denouncing this plan.

The Trump birther campaign was dug up in Arizona, naturally, when the secretary of state of that forlorn place said he might keep the president off the ballot this year if he did not get proof he was born in this country. The fact that he’s been running it for three-and-a-half years apparently didn’t matter, not when you can stir up resentments among some white voters.

Make no mistake, fear and resentment are at the crux of much of the Republican campaign against Obama. As much as they may argue that the campaign is about the economy and even though working class whites reportedly favor Romney over Obama by nearly two to one when asked who would be best for their financial interests, common sense says that many of those people understand that lowering taxes on the rich, making college loans more expensive and making affordable health care harder to get is not a plan that helps their interests.

So something else is influencing their vote.

It was not a fluke that Rick Santorum’s campaign gathered momentum when he started speaking out against gay marriage, against women’s contraceptive rights, against welfare for blacks. That’s right. Of course, this was only done in safely white enclaves, like Sioux City, Iowa. As reported in The Guardian, Santorum told a mostly white campaign rally there: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money. I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” He got cheers.

Now, the population of Sioux City is 2.9 percent black. Food stamp use in the area is up more than 25 percent in the last five years, with white recipients outnumbering blacks nine to one. So, what was his message, hope or resentment?

Romney, of course, has tried to portray Obama as responsible for encouraging a free flow of undocumented people across the border with Mexico. But Obama has supported strong enforcement along the border and deportation of undesirable illegals. He does support a plan to allow millions already in this country and contributing to the community to follow a path to citizenship, but so did George W. Bush. He just never had the guts to stick with his instincts in this matter.

This kind of color-coded campaigning began for Republicans in the South under President Richard Nixon and has steadily drawn older, white, poor and middle class voters away from Democrats, who have tended to disparage and dismiss the defectors rather than acknowledging their religious and cultural differences and trying to come to some agreement on economic issues. In the end, that might well be a losing effort. More to the point, it may be an unnecessary one.

Republicans, who came to power in this country leading the fight to end slavery, appear to have come down on the wrong side of history in several areas in their simple-minded effort to regain control of the government and the rewards that entails. Gay marriage is an obvious one example. In the near future, the whole white vs. black scare strategy will also be outdated. Latest census figures revealed that, for the first time in U.S. history, nonwhite babies outnumbered white babies. If the minorities abide by the conservatives’ pro-life, no-contraceptives philosophy so ardently espoused by Romney, Santorum et al, minorities will soon be a majority in America. Mixed race marriages will join same-gender marriages as routine. Immigrants of every stripe will continue to become part of the fabric of America and gain more positions of influence. Younger voters — like those leading the Occupy movement — will recognize what the super PACs and super banks have tried to do by throwing tons of money at politicians who will spread whatever message they want, whether it makes sense or not, as long as it keeps government out of their affairs.

And, oh yes, the Montana Supreme Court recently rejected the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Citizens United, saying that longstanding Montana law supersedes it. Other states are joining the legal fight. Even some conservative Republicans are beginning to doubt the wisdom of giving all that power to unregulated rich people. Which sort of describes Mitt Romney.

bob@zestoforange.com